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Importance of his life and character.--Family history.- Early destination
and apprenticeship.--Absconds, and arrives at Philadelphia. THE lives of great and useful men have been compared to the course of rivers. They often rise in the most obscure and desolate regions; a child might leap over their sources ; and thorns and briars alone appear destined to obey their unregarded progress:
But silently that slighted thing
Shall demonstrate its living spring. The stream widens and deepens ; it becomes the pride of the meadows, and the fertilizer of extensive districts; it arrives within the sweep of tides and the bustle of commerce; conveys prosperity to towns and cities; bears on its bosom the hopes and fortunes of millions, and at length reaches the ocean, the health and hope of a country.
The life of BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, which extends through nearly the whole of the eighteenth century, realized this ancient metaphor in a most remarkable degree. He was at once the humble mechanic, the yet humbler son of a tallow-chandler whose business he hated, and the artificer of his country's independence. He was an oppressed apprentice in the obscure and dingy press-room of a provincial town, and one of the most formidable opponents of
British cabinet measures, and of the whole strength of Britain wielded for indefensible purposes. He had few advantages of education, yet mingled, finally, with the most learned and most polite society in Europe. Inheriting no patrimony but that of a persecuted and honest name, he left to his posterity a handsome fortune realized by his own industry, and claims upon his country's gratitude never fully to be repaid.
Whether considered as a successful tradesman, an experimental philosopher, or a distinguished statesman, his history is full of interesting and important points: we possess, happily, ample details of it, some of the most interesting of them furnished by himself. Let the humblest reader of these pages therefore enter upon them with the assurance of their being calculated to give hope to poverty; to brace the sinews of all industrious men with new energy and perseverance; and to shed the light of contentment and the blessings of temperance, frugality, and peace, on the most humble human lot.
Franklin's name and family history are to be traced to an early period :-to that period, perhaps, when his name expressed the freedom and independence for which he so conspicuously and so successfully contended *. He became naturally curious, in his prosperity, respecting the early details of his family history; and found that his ancestors were settled at Ecton in Northamptonshire, for three centuries, on a freehold of their own, of about thirty acres. In the parish books of that place he traced, while in England, registers of the marriages and deaths of the family as far back as the books extended (1555). He learnt that, from time immemorial, the eldest son had been brought up a smith, a business which his own elder brother followed.
• Dr. Johnson calls a franklin; a “ little gentleman,” but Chaucer and Spenser clearly had more dignified conceptions of his rank in society. Of his country gentleman the former says,
This worthy FRANKLIN bore a purse of silk,
Dr Franklin also found that he was himself the youngest son of the youngest son for five succeeding generations.
His grandfather, Thomas Franklin, born in 1598, left the paternal village in the decline of life, and enjoyed a tolerable competence in the house of his son John, a dyer, at Banbury in Oxfordshire. His sons were Thomas, John, and Benjamin, who all reached man's estate; but the male line failing in the eldest branch, Elizabeth, the only daughter of Thomas Franklin, became seised of the land; and her husband, Fisher, of Wellingborough, near Ecton, sold it to the lord of the manor, a Mr Isted.
This Thomas Franklin possessed much of the inquisitive and enterprising spirit of his distinguished grandson. Bred a smith, he resigned his business, studied for the bar, and became a man of considerable consequence in his neighbourhood. 66 Had he died,” said governor Franklin, “ four years later than he did, one might have believed in a transmigration.”
John, the next brother, was a dyer in wool; and the third, named Benjamin, was hred a silk-dyer in London, where he accumulated property, and became, in his way, literary and poetical. He retired finally to the house of Dr Franklin's father at Boston in America, where he died in a good old age. His bookish propensities were connected, as we shall see, with those of the greater Benjamin, his nephew.
The family had become Protestants in the dawn of the Reformation. Dr Franklin's godfather and uncle, Benjamin, used to relate an anecdote which supplies a striking picture of the tinies. They had an English Bible (in queen Mary's reign) which, to conceal and place in safety, they fastened open, with tapes across the leaves, under the cover of a joint-stool. When Franklin's great-grandfather used to read it to his family, he placed the joint-stool on his knees, and then turned over the leaves under the tapes. One of the children stood at the door, to give notice of the
approach of the proctor, an officer of the spiritual court, if he saw him coming. In that case, the stool was turned down again on its feet, and the Bible remained concealed as before.
Persecution therefore did not deter them from their Protestantism; nor, when its anhallowed weapons were assumed by Protestants themselves, did it deter the younger branch of the family from nonconformity. In the latter part of Charles the Second's reign, Benjamin and Joseph Franklin both declared for the dissenting interests; and the younger brother, having married early, and finding a family coming quickly, was prevailed upon, in 1682, to emigrate to America. Accompanying a party of friends, he at first tried amongst them his business of a dyer, but this failing, became a soap-boiler and tallow-chandler. Here he had four more children, in all seven, by his first wife, and ten by a second; thirteen of whom lived to years of maturity, and were married. Dr Franklin well remembered, as he tells us, to have seen the whole of this numerous group round the family board.
The subject of our memoir was born at Boston in New England, January 17, 1706. His mother, whom he characterizes as pious and prudent, discreet and virtuous *, was the daughter of one of the first settlers of that part of the country, a Mr Peter Folgier, honourably mentioned in Dr Cotton Mather's “ Mag
* In the following epitaph, it is true, (but Franklin had too much good sense, to inscribe even a parent's tomb with a notoriously false compliment) which he placed on a marble tablet over the grave of his parents, after his more successful course
" HERE LIE “ Josias Franklin,'and Abiah his wife: they lived together with reciprocal affec. tion for fifty-nine years; and, without private fortune, without lucrative employment, by assiduous labour, and honest industry, decently supported a numerous family, and educated, with success, thirteen children and seven grandchildren. Let this example, reader, encourage thee diligently to discharge the duties of thy calling, and to rely on the support of Divine Provi* dence.
“He was pious and prudent,
" She discreet and virtuous. « Their youngest son, from a sentiment of filial duty, consecrates this stove to